Most action stars get started in their younger days and ride that train for as long as they can until they go full Murtaugh and are too old for that shit. Liam Neeson went the other way. After reaching what may have been the height of his career in Schindler’s List, (I haven’t seen it, it’s in the queue), he decided to start training Jedi, batmen, and saving his family from eastern Europeans. By the time the first Taken was released he was already past 50. Turning 64 this June, I took a look at Neeson’s run of hard boiled action thrillers of recent years to see if you really can teach an old dog new CQC tactics.
In Run All Night Neeson plays a mid-level mobster and lifetime friend to his mafioso boss, Ed Harris. When Neeson’s son, a law abiding man with a family, runs afoul of Harris’s screw-up hot headed kid, the latter ends up dead and the former must…RUN ALL NIGHT! Ok, the title of this movie is really bad but everything else is really good!
Early on this movie establishes a knack for visual flair with bullet time esque snapshots of action and sweeping CGI camera pans that take us from one city street high into the sky to zoom back into a car window miles away. It’s an effect that gave the movie a little extra welcome style and while it borders on distracting at times I welcomed it.
Luckily this movie isn’t just style over substance. The drama that plays out between Liam Neeson and his estranged son while they struggle to stay alive and possibly come to terms with each other before one of them ends up dead is engaging. While it won’t win any awards the acting is certainly better than you might expect from this genre of movie. Action movies excel when they make me really care about the characters getting shot at and this one does that well. And when Harris and Neeson share the screen I’m completely engrossed in the story unfolding between them.
The action itself kinetic and fun to watch. Firefights break out spectacularly, glass windows have a low life expectancy, bad guys are dispatched and our heroes take the occasional injury as well. The narrative moves the film from set piece to set piece in a way that flows and doesn’t feel forced or contrived. The introduction of an elite hitman adds just a smidge of fun action movie craziness to what is otherwise mostly “heightened reality.” Sure, Neeson manages to never get hit just like every other hero but there isn’t a scene where he takes on a fighter jet while on foot and wins.
Run All Night gets the most words out of me because, of the Liam Neeson movies reviewed today, it’s the best one. The others all venture too far into one direction or another. One is a slow burn crime drama, another is over the top with it’s action, and so on. Run All Night hits the sweet spot and manages to make me just as excited when words are flying between characters as when bullets are.
It just really is an awful title. How about Avoid All Bullets? Or maybe Let’s Not Die!
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
Taken 3 – How do we up the ante by the time we’ve made it to the third one? Fridge the wife! Liam Neeson must once again use his particular set of skills to kill a bunch of people and run from the cops who are represented by Forest Whitaker. A couple of nice touches, such as the cops believing Neeson earlier than usual, the daughter being less of a passive character, and Neeson having a team of guys who also have particular sets of skills don’t save this movie from feeling like a empty cash grab. I got lost during some action scenes. Guilty pleasure fun but forgettable.
Non-Stop – Air marshall with a drinking problem Liam Neeson is on board a flight with a mystery terrorist threatening to kill a passenger every twenty minutes unless he or she is paid. The setup is ludicrous, but I can go with ludicrous if the rest of the movie is fun. This one is not. Neeson does his part well as his paranoia rises with his frustration at being framed for the crime, but the rest of the film falls flat. A mystery that I hoped had a clever twist coming fizzles out to be a very plain movie.
A Walk Among the Tombstones – This movie is set in 1999 and references Y2k for…reasons? Anyway, former cop turned private investigator Liam Neeson finds himself on the trail of a pair of serial killers. This slow burn noir mystery is grizzled and hard and desaturated and gritty. Neeson puts in a haunted performance as a man trying to atone for his mistakes and the killers are frightening. If Run All Night is the best movie of this bunch, Tombstones is the runner up.
Ted 2 – The living teddy bear Ted is on a mission to prove that he is a person and not just a piece of property. In this hard hitting drama about civil rights and…aw, who am I kidding. It’s Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane making jokes about weed, Kardashians, and nonsequiturs. If you like Family Guy you’ll like this. I enjoyed it pretty well myself. I watched it because in one scene Liam Neeson purchases some cereal and it’s hilarious.
(Before you start looking for connections, the rest of these movies don’t have anything to do with Liam Neeson. OR DO THEY?!)
Singin’ in the Rain – Inspired by this expertly edited dance mashup I went back to watch one of the old song and dance movie musicals. I sometimes have problems when musicals have songs that don’t further the plot or feel necessary and instead are just there for the sake of having another song. This movie is guilty of that sometimes, but when the three leads are as impressive as these three are I can forgive it. There are some amazing moves pulled off and a few laughs to be had in between. This whole movie is good fun. Also, the villainess totally sounds like Harley Quinn.
Black Cauldron – An animated Disney movie with no singing in it whatsoever? What is this madness? A young man goes on an adventure during which he meets a variety of strange characters and must prevent the dark Horned King from gaining the power of the titular cauldron. From 1985 this fantasy adventure is well animated for its day. It won’t hold the attention of any adults but could serve has a very good stepping stone for children who feel they’re ready to graduate from “kiddy cartoons” into something that is ever so slightly more mature with its magical swords and scary monsters.
Hot Pursuit – By the book inept cop Reese Witherspoon must transport key witness Sofia Vergara. Hijinks ensue. You think Sofia Vergara can be grating with all of her yelling? You haven’t hear Witherspoon’s Texan accent. Yikes. There are a couple laughs in here but ultimately this is a by the numbers flick just going through the motions. I just wish I had as much fun watching it as it looks like the cast did in the blooper reel.
Yellow Submarine – In this 1968 animated Beatles film the blue meanies are trying to rid the world of music and only the Beatles can defeat them and…yeah. I suspect that there were some illicit substances used in the design of this visually cracktastic movie. Those same substances also might increase one’s enjoyment of it! Trippy visuals set to Beatles music means that only diehard Beatles fans need apply. It’d be easier just to listen to the music than watch the movie.